Black Music Sunday: Valentine’s Day is around the corner. What’s your favorite love song?

It’s Super Bowl Sunday—which we have covered here at “Black Music Sunday” in the past—but with Valentine’s Day on Wednesday, we’re going to get into love song mode.

R&B and soul artists have been singing about love since the genre took hold in the 1940s, and they’re still going strong today. Usher headlining the 2024 Super Bowl halftime show is a testimony to that. He’s also paying tribute to R&B artists of the past.

But let’s not forget rocker Tracy Chapman, who got her flowers onstage at the Grammys last week for her duet with Luke Combs. “Fast Car” is a heartbreaking, visceral ballad, but Chapman has also written some powerful love songs.

With thousands of love songs to choose from, I won’t be able to include them all, so check out some past Valentine’s Day selections: In 2022, we featured Houston Person, Etta Jones, Etta James, Ben Webster, and Johnny Hartman with John Coltrane. And in 2021, Sarah Vaughn, Ella Fitzgerald, Arthur Prysock, Nat and Natalie Cole, Miles Davis, and Ben Webster sung their hearts out for us. 

Truthfully, I could probably write a music story every day and never scratch the surface of the plethora of songs about love.

”Black Music Sunday” is a weekly series highlighting all things Black music with nearly 200 stories covering performers, genres, history, and more, each featuring its own vibrant soundtrack. I hope you’ll find some familiar tunes and perhaps an introduction to something new.

Still thinking about Tracy Chapman, I have to play “Baby Can I Hold You.” Here’s a live version of the 1988 hit:


Sorry Is all that you can't say
Years gone by and still
Words don't come easily
Like sorry like sorry Forgive me Is all that you can't say
Years gone by and still
Words don't come easily
Like forgive me forgive me    
But you can say baby
Baby can I hold you tonight?
Maybe if I told you the right words
At the right time you'd be mine    
I love you Is all that you can't say
Years gone by and still
Words don't come easily
Like I love you
I love you    
But you can say baby
Baby can I hold you tonight?
Maybe if I told you the right words
Ooh, at the right time you'd be mine  
Baby can I hold you tonight?
Maybe if I told you the right words
At the right time you'd be mine
You'd be mine
You'd be mine

Here’s some (authorized) biographical background from the “About Tracy Chapman” site, written by Nigel Williamson in 2001:

Born and raised by her mother in Cleveland, Ohio, she began writing poetry and short stories at an early age. Tracy’s first instrument was a ukulele that her mother bought her at three years old because she recognized that she loved music, and was later stolen by the girl across the street from them. There wasn’t much money in the family but her mother saved money from the household food money to purchase it from a neighborhood store.

An academic scholarship sent her to high school in Connecticut, where she played at chapel services, Her mother bought her first guitar when she was away in boarding school when she started playing coffee house at school with a borrowed guitar. Later, the school chaplain Reverend Robert Tate organized a collection to buy her a new guitar. (He was thanked years later in the credits on her first album.)

At Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts, she studied anthropology and honed her musical skills on the Boston folk circuit, playing guitar and singing on the streets of Harvard Square and performing at local coffeehouses and the campus folk club. By 1987, she had signed to Elektra, a label with a proud singer-songwriter history dating back to the 1960s heyday of the genre. Her self-titled debut album, produced by David Kershenbaum, was released in early 1988 and its warm, passionate and heartfelt songs announced the arrival of a compelling talent. At the time, the record was a breath of fresh air. By the late 1980s, music was dominated by synths and drum machines and the simplicity and sincerity of Chapman’s approach was hugely refreshing. The songs themselves were full of sharp observation, deeply rooted in her personal experience of growing up poor in a working-class community in the inner city.

Journalist Sarah Smarsh wrote about one of those 1988 songs for Oxford American in 2022.

“For My Lover”

Tracy Chapman on the rewards of risk and love

Being in love is a state of madness that may compromise decision-making abilities. Sacrifices made for a romantic partner should, therefore, be examined.

In Tracy Chapman’s “For My Lover,” from her 1988 debut Tracy Chapman, the narrator acknowledges that others think she’s nuts and wonders whether the relationship is worth the losses and risks she has incurred: doing time in a Virginia jail, coming up with bail money, lying to authorities to cover for her love.

The chorus, though, returns to her conclusion: It’s the world, not her, that’s crazy. I believe her. When Chapman sings “you” over and over with her iconic contralto, it doesn’t sound like codependency. It sounds like ardent longing and frustrated adoration, conditions that plenty of good, sane, worthwhile partnerships will endure in hard times.

Those hard times echo in the instrumentation. Chapman’s guitar licks are simple and haunting, like something one might strum in a county cell where a small square of light streams from a high window with bars across it. Steel guitarist Ed Black pulls one note down the scale for a full measure, again and again, suggesting the long arc of justice bending down to find the forgotten. The end of the song contains a muffled harmonica, such as that you might hear through a wall.

Give it a listen:

Chapman sang of going to jail for her lover, but Prince rocked the world with “I Would Die 4 U.” This rousing live performance, according to the Prince Vault, came during a Nov. 20, 1984 concert at Maryland’s Capital Center.

Goldies Parade has some interesting details of Prince’s beginnings.

A bemused Oprah Winfrey asked Prince in 1996 why he, a superstar, still chose to live in Minnesota “of all places”. He responded simply “I will always live in Minneapolis. It’s so cold it keeps the bad people out.” Minneapolis was Prince’s home town since birth and indeed remained his base throughout even during the height and length of his career that ultimately spanned four decades. The place greatly influenced Prince’s music. Lying at the far north of the US on its border with Canada, winters in the state of Minnesota indeed average lows of -14C. In the interwar period approximately 2 million blacks fled America’s southern states to seek refuge from racism in what witnessed the country’s largest internal migration in its history. They were headed north in search of tolerant society, and skilled and better paid work. A mere 4,646 made their way to Minneapolis by 1940, a figure doubtlessly low due to its uninviting winters.

Prince Rogers Nelson was born at the city’s Mount Sinai Hospital on 7th June 1958. His father, John Lewis Nelson (1916-2001) a pianist from Louisiana, named Prince after his band – New Orleans jazz outfit Prince Rogers Trio (incidentally a four-piece band). His wife and Prince’s mother, Mattie Della Shaw (1933-2002) was the band’s singer. John and Mattie married in 1956. and joined the exodus north. They headed to Minneapolis, a city that adjoined the state capital St Paul and together was known as The Twin Cities. Despite choosing to live in the city where the black community represented only 1 percent of the population, Minneapolis enjoyed a reputation for racial tolerance, owing to its particularly large Scandinavian community.

Prince’s website has wonderful notes and photos on his childhood and high school days.

Prince’s classmates at Central High School knew that he was a talented musician, and a dedicated one; halfway through sophomore year he had quit the basketball team and was dedicating every free moment to jamming in the music room. But he had an aversion to joining the school band or taking formal lessons — a fact that was noted in his first piece of press ever, a 1976 article in the student newspaper the Central High Pioneer: “He likes Central a great deal, because his music teachers let him work on his own.” Instead, Prince preferred to get most of his music education from their stereo, spending hours with André in the Anderson’s basement listening to rock and folk artists like Joni Mitchell, Maria Muldaur, and Carlos Santana on FM station KQRS, and exploring the rich history of R&B, soul, and funk via the black community radio station KUXL, an AM channel that was only broadcast to a small section of North Minneapolis.

At his January 2016 Piano and a Microphone show, Prince recalled his days listening to KUXL

From Grand Funk Railroad to Sly and the Family Stone, Jimi Hendrix to the Jackson 5, Prince listened eagerly and learned it all. Grand Central was starting to get booked not just at community centers in North Minneapolis but at high school proms and homecoming dances across South, and Prince knew that he would have to learn a wide variety of Top 40 hits to appeal to the white teenagers in all parts of the city.

I could write an entire story about Prince’s love songs. I won’t, but here’s a great review of them by Prince historian and YouTuber Eloy Lasanta, which was posted to his “Prince’s Friend” channel and produced for Valentine’s Day 2020.

From the YouTube video notes:

Songs discussed are: 1000 X’s & O’s, Adore, Baby,Betcha By Golly Wow, Call My Name,Forever In My Life, Friend Lover Sister Mother Wife, Future Baby Mama,Love Like Jazz, Most Beautiful Girl In the World, The One, Pink Cashmere, Savior, She Loves Me 4 Me, She’s Always in My Hair, Somewhere Here On Earth, Space (Universal Love Remix), and Walk In Sand.

“Forever in My Life” is Lasanta’s top pick. Here it is:

Since we’ve heard from the Prince, it’s time to bring on the Queen herself, Aretha Franklin. Her biography on the Academy of Achievement website covers the basics of her background.

Aretha Franklin was born in Memphis Tennessee, but at an early age, her family moved, first to Buffalo, New York, and finally to Detroit, Michigan, where she spent her formative years.  Although Aretha Franklin spent much of her adult life in New York and Los Angeles, she would always regard Detroit as her hometown and returned to the city for the last three decades of her life.

Aretha’s mother died when she was ten, and she was raised by her father, a Baptist minister.  For 33 years, Rev. C. L. Franklin was pastor of New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit.  Rev. Franklin was not only a popular pastor but an influential civil rights activist, in demand for speaking engagements around the country.  Several of his sermons were recorded and issued as phonograph records. Admirers called him the “man with the million-dollar voice.”  Notable figures from the civil rights movement were regular visitors to New Bethel Church and were welcome guests in the Franklin home.  The country’s premier gospel singers — Mahalia Jackson and Clara Ward — as well as secular jazz and blues musicians, also paid calls on Rev. Franklin, Aretha, and her brothers and sister.

Aretha’s father encouraged her to sing.  When she was very small, her father would stand her on a chair to be seen from the pews when she sang in church.  She learned to play piano by ear, although she resisted formal lessons, and by age ten, she could foresee a career as a gospel singer. In her teens, she joined the junior choir that traveled with her father on his speaking engagements.  While in California, the Franklins met the young Sam Cooke, lead singer with the gospel group the Soul Stirrers; they followed his career with interest as he left the Soul Stirrers to focus instead on secular pop music.  Sam Cooke’s success made a deep impression on young Aretha, who began to wonder if she too might pursue a music career outside of the church.

And aren’t we blessed that she did? 

Franklin demonstrates such intensity in “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You).” Music blogger altrockchick gives it a blunt review:

Aretha adheres tightly to the storyline in the bluesy title track (and her first top ten hit), “I Never Loved a Man (The Way That I Love You).” Her ability to convincingly oscillate from disgust at her man’s deplorable behavior to expression of irresistible attraction is so genuine and so real-life that it gives you the shivers. When she gives us that throaty whisper in the chorus, supported by a brief patch of harmony, you can visualize her lips getting closer to his and her nipples hardening. The way she comps herself on the piano is pretty impressive as well, especially in the second verse where she forces her piano to break through to the front of the sound field. The horns on this piece are particularly tight and supportive, but goddamn—when Aretha really gets into a song, she fucking owns it.

Have a listen. 

One of the things about Aretha that I admire so much? When she covers a song that was already a hit for other artists, she makes it her own. Consider “This Girl’s in Love With You,” written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, which started out as Herb Alpert’s “This Guy’s in Love with You.”

A shift of genders made it a hit for Dionne Warwick, but check out The Queen’s interpretation!

I’ll close out The Queen’s section with a song about how love makes you feel. It’s a performance that will make you feel the love and respect between an artist and a songwriter—in this case, Carole King. I can’t count the number of times I’ve watched this performance of “A Natural Woman” at the Kennedy Center.

As PBS “News Hour” notes

Singer-songwriter Carole King, 73, was one of the six honorees to receive 2015 Kennedy Center Honors in a year-end gala in the nation’s capital. Among the hundreds of compositions credited to her is 1967’s “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” a single co-written by King and made famous by soul singer Aretha Franklin.

Tuesday night, Franklin took the stage and sang what has become a staple for the Queen of Soul. From the moment Franklin appeared on stage in a floor-length fur coat, it was a master class in how to be a diva.

Franklin commanded the piano.

King gesticulated wildly in approval.

Not even a minute into the performance, the camera cut to President Obama wiping away a tear.

I’ll close today with one of the greatest R&B love songs of all time, according to a slew of makers of such lists. And this one has recently been posted to social media for a non-musical, political reason.

Democratic Rep. Al Green for Texas left the hospital on Tuesday, and arrived on the floor of the House to cast his ballot against the bogus Republican impeachment proceedings that were underway against Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

Congressman Al Green, D-Texas, was brought into the House Chamber in a wheelchair Tuesday afternoon, wearing hospital scrubs and socks, to cast his vote against impeaching Secretary Mayorkas, blocking the impeachment. HERO! “I was determined to cast the vote long before - I had…

— Leia🌻 (@TheSWPrincess) February 7, 2024

Democrats stuck together and were able to block the Republicans—for now. Unsurprisingly, there were a lot of social references to another Al Green and his 1972 major hit “Let’s Stay Together,” which is in the Grammy Hall of Fame.

Green, whose career has had ups and downs, is honored in The Arkansas Encyclopedia.

Al Green is one of Arkansas’s best-known singers, with a career that has ranged from rhythm and blues (R&B) to pop to gospel and a combination. Green’s distinctive falsetto singing style continues to thrill fans old and young, and he remains an active soul singer from an era that also produced Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, and Marvin Gaye.

Al Greene (he later dropped the last “e”) was born on April 13, 1946, in Forrest City (St. Francis County) and grew up in a large African American family that sang gospel music. When his sharecropper father moved the family to Grand Rapids, Michigan, Green was only nine but sang with his siblings in the Green Brothers. When he began listening to the non-gospel sounds of Jackie Wilson, Green’s father dismissed sixteen-year-old Green from the group.

Green was later recruited by a local band, the Creations, later renamed Al Green and the Soul Mates, and in 1967, they recorded a single, “Back Up Train,” which hit No. 5 on the R&B charts. After a couple of years of struggling, Green was in a Midland, Texas, club in 1969 when he met Willie Mitchell, a Memphis, Tennessee, bandleader and an executive with that city’s soul record label, Hi Records. Mitchell persuaded Green to move to Memphis and let Mitchell shape his career and sound.

Green’s first chart hit, “Tired of Being Alone,” reached No. 11 in 1971. It was followed at the end of that year by his only No. 1 hit, “Let’s Stay Together.” He had six other Top 10 hits, all released between 1972 and 1974.

Here he is live on “Soul Train” in 1973 singing “Love and Happiness.” I never missed an episode.

My final Green selection is both an album and its titular hit single, “I’m Still in Love with You.” I still sing this to my husband, and he sings it to me.

As a sidebar: Few of us will forget when then President Barack Obama was at the Apollo Theater in Harlem for a fundraising event in January 2012 and sang the opening line from “Let’s Stay Together.”

As I asked in the headline, what are your favorite love songs?  Join me in the comments for many, many more love songs, and please share your favorites. My husband and I will have the speakers on high. 

Happy Super Bowl Sunday … of love!

Caribbean Matters: The severe impact of climate change on the US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico

While many media outlets only seem to pay attention to the U.S. Virgin Islands these days when discussing Jeffrey Epstein’s infamous private island of Little St. James and Puerto Rico when it comes to Bad Bunny concerts, it is important that we take note of the reality that both U.S. colonies in the Caribbean are on the front lines of climate change.

The islands have been hit with scorching, record-breaking heat over the past summer, drought, flooding, erosion of the coastlines, damage to coral reefs, and waves of foul-smelling seaweed called sargassum. Climate change greatly affects the health and safety of those who live in the areas, not to mention the economic impact.

RELATED STORY: Caribbean Matters: A stinky 'golden tide' of sargassum seaweed strangles the Caribbean

Caribbean Matters is a weekly series from Daily Kos. If you are unfamiliar with the region, check out Caribbean Matters: Getting to know the countries of the Caribbean.

When discussing the impact of climate change on the daily lives of Puerto Rican and Virgin islanders, one aspect that I don’t often see mentioned are the are health-related impacts, both mental and physical. Writer, reporter, photographer, and producer Pearl Marvell published this report for Yale Climate Connections about the damage extreme weather does to areas already impacted by colonization and systemic inequality:

Puerto Rico has seen an alarming increase in deaths over the last two years caused by cardiovascular conditions, diabetes, and mental health conditions like overdose, alcoholism, and dementia. There are a number of reasons for this, but the Fifth National Climate Assessment released last month warned that more intense and frequent hurricanes and other extreme weather events caused by climate change will likely bring more illness, higher mortality, and an overall decrease in quality of life to citizens in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

“Perhaps we are among the least responsible for climate change, but we are being among the most impacted,” said Pablo Méndez-Lázaro, one of the lead researchers of the chapter. 


The 32-chapter national assessment, which will be published in Spanish in the coming months, is filled with information on the effects of climate change and potential solutions in the United States. This is the first assessment to fully assess the devastating effects of Hurricanes Maria and Irma on the islands in 2017. Chapter 23 focuses on Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, examining the climate crisis in the context of the sociological, psychological, and historical situation of this region. It paints a more nuanced and complex picture than the fourth assessment in 2018, which focused on the effects of climate change on rainfall, coastal systems, and rising temperatures.

Back in 2016, the federal Environmental Protection Agency published this fact sheet on the USVI and climate change. It covered issues such as ocean warming and sea level rise, coral reef damage and ocean acidification, storm impact on homes and infrastructure, the shrinking of forests, and interference in agriculture productivity which could affect food supplies. We have seen the EPA’s predictions for human health impact come to pass:

Hot days can be unhealthy—even dangerous. Certain people are especially vulnerable, including children, the elderly, the sick, and the poor. Rising temperatures will increase the frequency of hot days and warm nights. High air temperatures can cause heat stroke and dehydration and affect people’s cardiovascular and nervous systems. Warm nights are especially dangerous because they prevent the human body from cooling after a hot day. Although reliable long-term temperature records for the U.S. Virgin Islands are unavailable, the frequency of warm nights in nearby Puerto Rico has increased by about 50 percent since 1950.

The U.S. Virgin Islands’ climate is suitable for mosquito species that carry diseases such as malaria, yellow fever, and dengue fever. While the transmission of disease depends on a variety of conditions, higher air temperatures are likely to accelerate the mosquito life cycle and the rate at which viruses replicate in mosquitoes.

The warm marine environment of the Virgin Islands helps promote some water-related illnesses: Vibriosis is a bacterial infection that can come from direct contact with contaminated water or eating infected shellfish. Ciguatera poisoning comes from eating fish that contain a toxic substance produced by a type of algae found in this area. Higher water temperatures can increase the growth of these bacteria and algae, which may increase the risk of these associated illnesses.

RELATED STORY:  Caribbean Matters: Dengue cases are rising, and not just in the Caribbean

Far too many mainlanders not of Puerto Rican or Virgin Islands ancestry only think of the islands as a tourist destination. The USVI economy is far more dependent on tourism than Puerto Rico’s. Tourism and related economic areas in USVI account for more than half of its GDP, whereas in Puerto Rico it is far less, according to data from the Financial Oversight Board:

While Puerto Rico’s tropical climate, sandy beaches and thriving culture attract close to a million visitors each year, tourism is not a leader when it comes to economic activity on the island. Despite a popular belief that tourism is a significant contributor, this industry only represents about 2% of the island’s GDP. That share has grown 1% over the last 5 years, which is significantly less than the 15% growth reported within the industry during the same period in the mainland United States.

The USVI, however, winds up being caught between a rock and a hard place. Island leaders and residents promote tourism for economic survival while at the same time attempting to mitigate its environmental harm. Shannon Garrido wrote for Pasquines:

It took the United States government an entire decade to grant the largely African-descended population American citizenship. US Virgin Islanders have remained unable to elect the President of the United States or have a voting delegate in Congress. Needless to say, residents have little to no power in dictating the United States’ use of their land, and upon the turn of the 20th century, this has had significant environmental effects.

The island of St. John is home to the 29th US National Park and was founded by Laurance S. Rockefeller, grandson of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. As a result, exploitation and protection for the enjoyment of wealthy and white visitors are at the expense of the island and its native inhabitants.

This unsustainable trend continues, and the USVI is facing environmental pressures from increased tourism that threaten vital natural resources. This type of development impacts the environment in multiple ways, especially through sediment pollution, increased demand for sewage treatments, and direct ecosystem damage from an increased number of tourists.

RELATED STORY:  Caribbean Matters: Danish history, slavery, resistance, and colonialism in the U.S. Virgin Islands

This news report from TRT World details many of the current climate issues, especially threats to the coral reefs:

As the US Virgin Islands continue their long recovery from the devastation caused by the 2017 hurricanes, there's increasing concern about the possible impact of climate change. Experts fear that global warming is not only increasing the intensity of hurricanes in the region but is also having an adverse affect on the islands' marine life.

Congresswoman Stacey Plaskett, the non-voting delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives from the USVI, was interviewed briefly in the report. While many Americans got their first look at her when she served as a floor manager for former President Donald Trump's second impeachment trial, it’s important to point out that she has not ignored climate change as a major issue for the people she represents.

Here’s her brief floor speech on climate change from Sept. 26, 2019:

Mr. Speaker, this week, the United Nations is hosting its Climate Action Summit. Robust funding and sound policies are needed to ensure we effectively combat climate change. Threatened by increasingly more frequent and extreme changes in our climate, territories like the U.S. Virgin Islands stand at the front line of this quickly escalating climate crisis.

Within the past decade, my district has reduced fossil fuel use by 20% and has become a regional leader in clean energy. States and territories have also passed regional and state-specific legislation to combat climate change, but we need a comprehensive, forward-looking national plan to address this threat to our children and our children's children.

 While we don't yet have all the tools to address rapid climate change, we must create them through increased Federal investment in research, development, and deployment of emerging technologies. Across the nation, climate change is threatening our economy and our lives. Hurricanes like Irma and Maria collectively cost $140 billion, according to NOAA, and, most importantly, they cost thousands of lives. America must lead the charge to preserve our planet.

Fast forward to July 24, 2023, when Plaskett shared this statement on the inclusion of the USVI in the government’s seasonal drought outlook:

“My office successfully worked with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to include the Virgin Islands in the U.S. Drought Monitor in 2019, which provides a general summary of current drought conditions and provides access to permanent disaster relief programs related to drought. As a result of the new inclusion in the CPC Drought Outlooks, our farmers will now have access to additional resources that can assist with their planning and preparation for adverse conditions, as well as their maximization of expected favorable conditions. The Virgin Islands Department of Agriculture, the Virgin Islands Department of Planning and Natural Resources, and the Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management Agency alongside environmental monitoring volunteers, the farming community, the University of the Virgin Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands Drought Coordinator, Christina Chanes, worked in partnership to collect, compile, and analyze data on precipitation and particulate matter. This community-wide effort played an instrumental role in the Climate Prediction Center’s decision to include the U.S. Virgin Islands in the Operational Drought Outlooks.

“Given the immense impact of weather on agriculture, skillful weather forecasts provided by CPC Drought Outlooks are of tremendous importance to farmers for effective decision making on critical matters, including which crops are most likely to flourish in the predicted growing season, how much of each crop to grow, whether to irrigate, the timing of planting and harvesting and whether to purchase crop insurance.

“This is a critical and timely development for the agricultural community in our territory. It is my hope that the data and resources provided by the Drought Outlooks will be a well-utilized resource by our local farmers and those in the Virgin Islands agriculture sector.”

My question about this is: Why was the USVI not included until 2019, and only in the monthly outlook in 2023? 

There are efforts underway in the USVI to preserve and replenish the coral reef system. This video from the Nature Conservancy documents them:

While I think many people have the impression that climate change is only a concern for those who dub themselves “climate activists,” it’s an issue that most Puerto Ricans worry about. Politicians running for office in Puerto Rico and in mainland areas with large Puerto Rican communities should take note of this recent report from the Yale School of the Environment:

Residents of Puerto Rico are among the most worried in the world about climate change according to a new study by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication (YPCCC).

The study, conducted in partnership with Rare and Data for Good at Meta, found that 93% of Puerto Ricans said they are “very worried” or “somewhat worried” about climate change; 84% said climate change will harm future generations “a great deal”; and 61% said climate change will harm them personally “a great deal.” Puerto Rico also had the highest number of respondents in the world who believe that climate change should be a high government priority.

Republican climate change deniers, listed in this opinion piece by Glenn C. Altschuler in The Hill, will hopefully be turning off mainland Puerto Rican voters in the next election as a result:

Not one Republican in Congress voted for the Biden administration’s bill to combat climate change. The percentage of rank-and-file Republicans who think global warming is caused by human activity has declined over the last two decades. These days, 70 percent of Republicans say climate change is a minor threat or no threat at all.

Democrats running for office should take note.

Please join me in the comments section below for more on Caribbean climate change issues and for the weekly Caribbean news roundup.

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Black Music Sunday: Remembering Grover Washington Jr.—’Mr. Magic’ himself

Tenor and soprano saxophonist and composer Grover Washington Jr. was born on Dec. 12, 1943, and joined the ancestors just five days after he celebrated his 56th birthday, on Dec. 17, 1999.

Some purist critics have disparaged his importance by pinning him as the founder of “smooth jazz” or “jazz fusion,” which in their opinions aren't jazz at all. Yet his album “Mister Magic” topped R&B and jazz charts while making waves in the pop genre as well.

Washington will always be honored as a musician that brought millions of fans to the music. And so it is only fitting that we also explore and celebrate Washington’s jazz and funk contributions to Black music history. 

He deserves the title “Mr. Magic.”

”Black Music Sunday” is a weekly series highlighting all things Black music. With nearly 190 stories covering performers, genres, history, and more, each featuring its own vibrant soundtrack. I hope you’ll find some familiar tunes and perhaps an introduction to something new.

Washington’s biography, by Greg Mazurkiewicz for Musician’s Guide, covers his early years.

Born in Buffalo, Washington was encouraged to take up the instrument by his saxophonist father. He was barely in his teens when he joined a local R&B group, and, at 16, began five years of working with the Four Clefs. He then freelanced for a couple of years and played saxophone during his military service before settling in Philadelphia in 1967.

That city had a reputation for clubs that jumped to the sound of the Hammond organ, and that may have been behind his first break. Another case of last-minute substitutions saw him summoned by Charles Earland in 1971 to the Key Club in Newark, New Jersey, where the organist was about to perform a live date. The album, Living Black, contains the outstanding version of Killer Joe, on which Washington's forthright opening tenor solo does so much to create the right ambiance.

Already a mature soloist, with a command of the high register that became something of a trademark, Washington's success with Earland led to several similar recordings, including those led by organist Johnny Hammond Smith. After the success of his own Kudu albums, he finally gave up a day job wholesaling records and became one of the stars of a circuit that involved the likes of George Duke, Bob James, Marcus Miller and Steve Gadd, generally filed under a crossover or fusion heading.

Here’s that 1970 recording of “Killer Joe”:

Washington’s first album, “Inner City Blues,” was released on Kudu Records in 1971. Thom Jurek at All Music provides some background on the album’s creation in his review.

The story behind Grover Washington, Jr.'s first session date as a leader revolves around a sheer coincidence of being in the right place at the right time. The truth is, the date for Creed Taylor's Kudu imprint was supposed to feature Hank Crawford in the soloist's chair. Crawford couldn't make the date and longtime sideman Washington got the nod. His being closely affiliated with organists Charles Earland and Johnny Hammond didn't hurt, and his alto and tenor saxophones' tone was instantly noticeable for both its song-like quality and Washington's unique ability to dig deep into R&B territory for his expression of feeling. Released in 1971, produced by Taylor, and arranged and orchestrated by Bob James, the list of players in this band is equally impressive: James played Fender Rhodes, there's Richard Tee on organ, bassist Ron Carter, drummer Idris Muhammad, then-new guitarist Eric Gale, percussionist Airto Moreira, Thad Jones and Eugene Young on trumpets, trombonist Wayne Andre, and baritone saxophonist Don Ashworth. James also added a violin section and a small vocal chorus on certain tracks.

Inner City Blues kicks off with its title track, a burning version of the Marvin Gaye tune with Washington lending a heft and depth to it that reveals the sophistication of Gaye's original.

Here’s that title track!

Yet it was Washington’s fourth album, 1974’s “Mister Magic,”  that was a commercial success, soaring to the top of jazz, soul, R&B, and pop charts. Here’s Washington performing the album’s title song, “Mister Magic,” live in concert on  June 27, 1981, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Just listen to the roar of applause once people realize what song they’re about to hear.

In 1976, Washington moved in a different direction, as All Music’s Thom Jurek’s A Secret Place review explains.

Tenor and soprano saxophonist Grover Washington, Jr. was faced with an almost impossible task in 1976: following up his two [1974 and 1975] critically acclaimed and wildly successful commercial recordings Mister Magic and Feels So Good. Both recordings crossed over to R&B on the radio and on the charts.


Washington could have gone the easy route and followed up his R&B chart success with a series of uptempo, rousing tracks that leaned heavier on funk -- in the style of the title tracks of both the previous albums. But he went in a different direction, at least partially. 

Here’s the full album:

In 1980, Washington released his hit album Winelight, which garnered him the 1982 Grammy for Best Jazz Fusion Performance. His collaboration with Bill Withers, on the iconic “Just The Two of Us” won the 1982 Grammy for Best Rhythm & Blues Song.

That’s so nice, gotta play it twice—this time with video of Bill Withers performing!

RELATED STORY: RIP, but remember: We will always have Bill Withers' music to lean on

Jakob Baekgaard at All About Jazz reviews the Columbia Records box set of Washington offerings, which includes vocalists.

Grover Washington Jr.: Sacred Kind of Love: The Columbia Recordings

His versatility is sometimes overlooked, but it shines through in a box set like this. When he plays jazz standards, he might add a big band orchestral flourish as he does in his reading of "When I Fall in Love," or he can do a pared-down-to-the essentials approach on "Nature Boy," where his gift for playing a melody comes to the fore. He can also do a playful electro take on Dave Brubeck's "Take Five." When it comes to vocalists there are elements of jazz, R&B and even a brief rap and he enlists singers as varied as Jean Carne, Phyllis Hyman, B.B. King and Freddy Cole. There is also a bit of Latin rhythm and bossa nova and Washington gets away with it all and still creates coherent albums with a distinctive sound. His sidemen include pianists Herbie Hancock and Hank Jones, bassist George Mraz and drummer Billy Hart. Sacred Kind of Love: The Columbia Recordings is a good place to start to grasp the quality and diversity of Grover Washington's music. A bonus: the box comes with thorough notes and bonus tracks. To quote one of the titles in the set, "Check Out Grover."

Here, Washington performs “Sacred Kind of Love” with Phyliss Hyman on “It's Showtime at the Apollo” in 1991:

It’s almost Christmas! Tune in next Sunday for a Christmas Eve jazz celebration. Here’s a lovely version of “Mary’s Song” that Washington recorded with Lisa Fischer. It’s from the 1997 “Breath Of Heaven: A Holiday Collection” album.  

From 1967 onward, Washington made his home in Philadelphia, where a mural honors his contribution to the city:

Continuing to celebrate the legacy of famed saxophonist, Grover Washington, Jr. through the Tribute to Grover Washington mural by Peter Pagast! #blackhistorymonth | 📍: Broad and Diamond Streets | 📷: @steveweinik

— Mural Arts (@muralarts) February 6, 2020

Ronald Atkins wrote in Washington’s 1999 obituary for The Guardian:

When not touring, Washington often helped young musicians in Philadelphia. His most recent big hit was the Next Exit album of 1992 that included Summer Chill, co-written by his son and nominated for a Grammy. Some of his higher profile gigs of recent years involved playing for President Clinton, who joined him on saxophone after one concert and said how honoured he felt to share the stage.

Washington's final TV show was broadcast on CBS the day after he died. He is survived by his wife Christine, a daughter and a son.

Here is the video documenting that last performance.

RIP, Mr. Magic.

Join me in the comments section below for more of Washington’s magic and as always, please post some of your favorites.

‘This is defund the police on steroids’: Rep. Stacey Plaskett takes Republicans to task

U.S. Virgin Islands Congressional Delegate Stacey Plaskett did not mince words in her opening statement Thursday to the Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government. She called out the farce being enacted by “MAGA Republicans” and meticulously dissected everything that is anti-democratic about the clown show that is the subcommittee chaired by Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan. 

Many Americans may remember Plaskett from her work prosecuting Donald Trump in the House impeachment hearings. Her remarks in yesterday’s hearing are well worth a listen. She calls the subcommittee what it is: a dangerous waste of time and taxpayer money that’s essentially a “clearinghouse” for potential conspiracy theories Donald Trump can use on the 2024 campaign trail.

RELATED STORY: Jim Jordan unable to stop Democratic lawmakers from dissecting his farce hearing

Plaskett was appointed to lead the Democrats on the subcommittee by House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries in February. 

There is no transcript of her seven-minute statement available as of this writing, but here’s the complete video.

Ian Swartz at Real Clear Politics transcribed some of Plaskett’s key points:

"My colleagues on the far right are on a mission to attack, discredit, and ultimately dismantle the FBI. This is defund the police on steroids," Plaskett said in her opening remarks.

"From what I can glean about today's hearing, I'm going to say glean because my Republican colleagues don't really want us to work together," she said. "They give us the bare minimum notice for hearings. No subject indicated. We learn who the hearing witnesses is from British tabloids. That's not normal in the House of Representatives. One must wonder, are Republicans scared of giving us the information so that we can do our own due diligence on these conspiracy theories, these ideas that they want to put forward?"

"Indeed, today's hearing will be more of the same," Plaskett declared. "Perhaps they're too far gone to realize that in fact this hearing is evidence, as if we needed anymore, that MAGA Republicans are a threat to the rule of law in America."

What moved me was when Plaskett referred to the unequal justice system being highlighted in the farce hearings. This is my rough transcription of part of her remarks:

REP. STACEY PLASKETT: “My Republican colleagues would like me to believe that they’ve suddenly found religion when it comes to law enforcement. Give me a break! When the FBI is rifling through personal correspondence of people of color. When law enforcement tries to push policies limiting the freedom of people practicing a different religion or unjustly pursuing people in cars who look like Philando Castile, or my children, or just going about their business, or breaking down the doors of people’s homes like Breonna Taylor, do you think my Republican colleagues care about that? They don’t bat an eye. But when the FBI investigates conservative Christian white men who are actually threatening violence, suddenly my Republican colleagues are rushing to defund the police. 

The reason we are here today is because Chairman Jordan wants to make America Trump again.”

Plaskett also tweeted a clip of her statement, with pointed commentary.

Today’s performance by Jim Jordan and other House Republicans is another clear example of jumping off the cliff for Trump and NOT the American people.

— Rep. Stacey Plaskett (@StaceyPlaskett) May 18, 2023

I do hope you’ll listen to her entire statement. If you’re up for it, head over to YouTube—where MAGA devotees are already trashing her—and add a thumbs-up.

RELATED STORY: Del. Stacey Plaskett's stellar prosecution of Trump is drawing kudos

Caribbean Matters: Remembering Hurricane Irma, five years later

While there has been speculation about the 2022 Atlantic-Caribbean hurricane season, which has thankfully not generated any major named storms yet, this month marks the five-year anniversary of two devastating storms that hit the Caribbean: Irma and Maria. The countries affected still have not yet fully recovered, and we see very little coverage of this in the U.S, beyond the damage Maria inflicted on Puerto Rico.

In honor of this dark anniversary, let’s take look back at Hurricane Irma; we’ll revisit Hurricane Maria next week, and of course we’ll explore where things stand today. 

Caribbean Matters is a weekly series from Daily Kos. If you are unfamiliar with the region, check out Caribbean Matters: Getting to know the countries of the Caribbean.

The first Category 5 storm of the 2017 season was Hurricane Irma, which formed on Aug. 30, 2017 and dissipated on Sept. 13. For those of you who are meteorology-minded, here is a portion of the National Hurricane Center’s “Tropical Cyclone Report” on Hurricane Irma, as applicable to the Caribbean.

By early on 4 September, Irma’s eye was growing in size and becoming better defined, and deep convection around the eye was gaining symmetry. Irma was on a strengthening trend once again, likely due to the completion of an eyewall replacement cycle, and it was headed toward the northern Leeward Islands. Irma turned west-northwestward, due to the erosion of the western side of the mid-level ridge (Fig 5b), and went through another round of rapid intensification. The hurricane reached its maximum intensity of 155 kt around 1800 UTC 5 September, when it was located about 70 n mi east-southeast of Barbuda. As a category 5 hurricane, Irma made landfall on Barbuda around 0545 UTC 6 September with maximum winds of 155 kt and a minimum pressure of 914 mb (Fig. 6a).

After crossing Barbuda, Irma continued to exhibit an impressive satellite appearance and made its second landfall on St. Martin at 1115 UTC that day, with the same wind speed and pressure as for its Barbuda landfall. Still moving west-northwestward to the south of a mid-level ridge, Irma made its third landfall on the island of Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands at 1630 UTC 6 September still as a 155-kt category 5 hurricane. Later that day, as Irma moved away from the Virgin Islands, reconnaissance data from the Air Force indicated that the major hurricane had weakened slightly and had a double wind maximum, indicative of concentric eyewalls. The double eyewall structure was also evident in Doppler radar data from San Juan, Puerto Rico (Fig. 7)

Even though Irma was no longer at its peak intensity, it remained a category 5 hurricane with a larger wind field than it had previously (Fig. 4). The eye of Irma tracked about 50 n mi to the north of the northern shore of Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic from 1800 UTC 6 September to 1800 UTC 7 September, with the strongest winds to the north of the center.

The eye of Irma passed just south of the Turks and Caicos Islands around 0000 UTC 8 September, and it made landfall on Little Inagua Island in the Bahamas at 0500 UTC that day at category 4 intensity, with estimated maximum winds of 135 kt and a minimum pressure of 924 mb. This slight weakening ended Irma’s 60-h period of sustained category 5 intensity, which is the second longest such period on record (behind the 1932 Cuba Hurricane of Santa Cruz del Sur). Irma then turned slightly to the left, due to a building subtropical ridge, and moved toward the northern coast of Cuba (Fig. 5c). Reconnaissance and microwave data indicate that the inner core had become better organized, and it is estimated that Irma strengthened to a category 5 hurricane again around 1800 UTC 8 September, only 18 h after weakening below that threshold.

Irma then intensified a little more and made its fifth landfall near Cayo Romano, Cuba, at 0300 UTC 9 September, with estimated maximum winds of 145 kt (Fig. 6b). This marked the first category 5 hurricane landfall in Cuba since Huracan sin Precedentes in 1924. Irma tracked along the Cuban Keys throughout that day, and its interaction with land caused it to weaken significantly, first to a category 4 storm a few hours after landfall in the Cuban Keys and then down to a category 2 hurricane by 1800 UTC that day when the eye was very near Isabela de Sagua. Shortly after that time, the forward speed of Irma slowed, and it began to make a turn to the northwest, which caused the core of the hurricane to move over the Florida Straits early on 10 September.

On Sept 7, 2017, NPR’s Scott Neuman chronicled the damage, going from island to island, tracking Irma’s path.

A string of tiny Caribbean islands have been left stunned and devastated by the destructive force of Hurricane Irma, one of the strongest storms ever to hit the region. Some islands appear to have been spared, but others suffered loss of life and damage on a near-apocalyptic scale.

He started with Antigua and Barbuda.

In Barbuda, communications were severed as Irma made landfall just before midnight on Tuesday. Antigua, 25 miles to the south, dodged the full force of the storm, prompting Prime Minister Gaston Browne at first to declare it a miracle that his nation had been spared.

But as it turned out, Browne had spoken too soon. It was only after communication began to be restored and he was able to visit Barbuda that the damage to the smaller of the two islands became clear. "I journeyed to Barbuda this afternoon and what I saw was heart-wrenching, absolutely devastating," Browne said on state-owned television Wednesday afternoon. "In fact, I believe that on a per capita basis, the extent of the destruction in Barbuda is unprecedented. And it is unprecedented, based on the type of storm. Hurricane Irma would have been easily the most powerful hurricane to have stormed through the Caribbean, and it is extremely unfortunate that Barbuda was right in its path."

As noted by Prime Minister Browne below, at least 95% of the island was affected.

My heart breaks for #Barbuda

— Therese Georgiev (@ThereseGeorgiev) September 7, 2017

One of the most irritating (read: rage-inducing) things about the first reports on Irma were the large number of social media posts from people who mistook Barbuda for Barbados, and posted videos like the one below—videos that were not even hurricane footage.

Barbados is not Barbuda. An example of misinformation being distributed/shared

— Rich Grasso (@richgrasso) September 6, 2017

This post pointed out the geographical distance between the two countries, after a journalist for a Charlotte CBS affiliate made the same error.

To clarify, #Barbados is lucky and was not in the path of #Irma (or #Jose). Zander was not "trying to surf in Irma".  ❤️to Barbuda.

— M.K. Hermant (@mkhermant) September 9, 2017

On Sept. 11, the BBC reported on damage to St. Martin, St Barts, and Anguilla.

The hurricane left more than two-thirds of homes on the Dutch side of the island of St Martin uninhabitable, with no electricity, gas or drinking water, and four people confirmed dead. The French government has said its side of St Martin - known as Saint-Martin - has sustained about €1.2bn ($1.44bn; £1.1bn) in damage, with nine deaths across Saint-Martin and St Barts. French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said there had been "massive destruction" to the islands.

The nearby British overseas territory of Anguilla also had extensive damage, with one person killed.

Then Irma hit close to home, making landfall in the Virgin Islands.

Irma found the Tortola's hurricane hole in Paraquita Bay #IrmaHurricane #Tortola

— John Clarke (@johnmclarkejr) September 6, 2017

Overhead footage offered just a glimpse of how bad things were.

This video footage shot from a drone shows the devastation on the island of Tortola, British Virgin Islands, from Hurricane #Irma

— CNN (@CNN) September 10, 2017

As Colin Dwyer wrote for NPR on Sept. 14:

Hurricane Irma arrived on the doorstep of the Virgin Islands just over a week ago. A Category 5 storm, historic in its terrible might, Irma shredded homes and hotels into the bare materials that made them, its winds scattering floorboards and roofs and light poles like so many matchsticks.

Within a day, the storm had rendered the islands so unrecognizable, satellites could register the stark change from space. Where once the Virgin Islands — both U.S. and British — gleamed green in their lush vegetation, that vista is buried brown beneath uprooted trees and the debris of broken buildings.

As nightmarish as those hours were, the days since have seemed a lifetime for many residents of the U.S. and British territories.

"While there were some homes that survived — some lost just roofs — there are homes that are totally obliterated right down to the foundation," David Mapp, executive director of the Virgin Islands Port Authority, tells NPR's Jason Beaubien. "I mean, all you see is rubble."

This short PBS video offers a glimpse of life after the destruction to the USVI.

.@JordynJournals details #Irma's destruction of the US Virgin Islands, including wind-damaged homes and many more w/o electricity.

— PBS NewsHour (@NewsHour) September 13, 2017

In an in-depth segment called “The Forgotten Americans,” Democracy Now! raised questions about the U.S. media’s coverage—or rather, lack thereof—of the devastation to the U.S. territory.

As the video’s YouTube caption explains:

Hurricane Irma made landfall in the U.S. Virgin Islands as a Category 5 storm just over one week ago, knocking out electricity and running water, and cutting off communications with the outside world. Now, Governor Kenneth Mapp says the islands of Saint John and Saint Thomas are still nearly entirely without power. The hurricane also destroyed schools and the main hospital on Saint Thomas. The devastation was so extensive, it can be seen from space. Earlier this week, a U.S. military amphibious ship arrived on Saint Thomas ladened with equipment and supplies. The islands have also received emergency aid from residents of the nearby island of Puerto Rico, where volunteers banded together to collect supplies and transport them on dozens of ships.

But while Hurricane Irma hit the U.S. Virgin Islands days before it made landfall on the Florida Keys, the Virgin Islands have been largely forgotten in the wall-to-wall U.S. media coverage of the storm. And that omission is even more striking given that the U.S. Virgin Islands are in the midst of celebrating their centennial as U.S. territory. We speak with Saint Thomas native Tiphanie Yanique, award-winning poet and novelist. She’s an associate professor in the English Department at Wesleyan University and the author of the poetry collection "Wife" and the novel "Land of Love and Drowning."

Meanwhile, on Fox (not) News, Tucker Carlson attacked USVI Gov. Mapp, based on NRA claims that Mapp’s calling up the National Guard to respond to the disaster included “seizing citizens’ guns.”

FOX Trump Stooge Tucker turns hurricane #Irma into conspiracy U.S. Virgin Islands is talking away guns & ammo from citizens. Gov. denies it.

— Richard W. (@IceManNYR) September 7, 2017

Mapp is the same governor then-President Trump mistakenly called “the president of the Virgin Islands.” It wasn’t until Oct. 3—about a month after Irma made landfall—that Trump actually met with him.

Donald Trump said he "met with the president of the Virgin Islands." (He doesn’t seem to realize he is the president of the Virgin Islands.)

— Maclean's Magazine (@macleans) October 14, 2017

Many U.S. television viewers got their first introduction to USVI Rep. Stacey Plaskett, who went on to be an House manager during Trump’s first impeachment trial; she’s seen here on MSNBC on Sept. 8, 2017.

Perhaps the most high-profile face to step up rally relief for the USVI was retired NBA star Tim Duncan.

ICYMI: Tim Duncan addresses the relief efforts in the U.S. Virgin Islands following Hurricane Irma.

— NBA TV (@NBATV) September 13, 2017

Michael C. Wright reported on Duncan’s “amazing” efforts for ESPN.

SAN ANTONIO -- Retired San Antonio Spurs forward Tim Duncan called the response to his plea Friday for donations toward Hurricane Irma relief efforts in the U.S. Virgin Islands "amazing," adding that thousands of donors, including the Spurs, local grocery store chain H-E-B and the San Antonio Food Bank, have contributed.

"I'm blown away by it," Duncan said Sunday during a news conference at the San Antonio Food Bank. "In this day and age, it's a little easier to reach a lot of people, and people have come out from everywhere. I've looked down the list of donors, and I've recognized some names. I've gotten support from the Spurs, H-E-B and the food bank -- all across the board. It's just been an amazing response."

Duncan penned an impassioned plea for donations toward Hurricane Irma relief efforts Friday in The Players' Tribune, and by Sunday afternoon, he had reached his $1 million goal. Duncan promised that every dollar donated would go directly toward relief efforts on the ground. Duncan kick-started the fundraising effort with a YouCaring account and an immediate $250,000 contribution, and he pledged to match all donations up to the first $1 million.

Post-Irma, Daily Kos Community member Lefty Coaster documented his work helping the USVI rebuild in early 2019, posting at both the beginning and after the conclusion of his three weeks of service.

Tiny Barbuda, which was completely destroyed, is now facing a different set of problems. A “post-hurricane land grab”  has been reported by Alleen Brown for The Intercept, involving billionaire developer (and Patrón Tequila co-founder) John Paul DeJoria and movie star Robert de Niro.

Residents of the tiny Caribbean island of Barbuda say a planned luxury resort co-owned by the billionaire philanthropist and self-proclaimed environmentalist John Paul DeJoria could destroy the islanders’ way of life. DeJoria’s development company would place a golf course and community of seaside vacation homes on top of a wetland protected by an international treaty.

Recognized as vital in a future marked by climate crisis, the lagoon’s mangroves, seagrass beds, and coral reefs support a lobster fishery, endangered hawksbill and leatherback turtles, and the largest nesting colony of magnificent frigatebirds in the Western hemisphere. The vegetation also helps protect land from eroding during increasingly severe storms, such as Hurricane Irma, which destroyed the island in 2017.

Locals, who are citizens of the sovereign nation of Antigua and Barbuda, are also raising concerns that the resort constructed by DeJoria’s company Peace, Love and Happiness is playing a role in upending the island’s collective land ownership system, which has survived since slavery’s abolishment.


The project is one of two large developments — for tiny Barbuda, at least — to benefit from a series of disaster capitalism-style legal maneuvers advanced in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, as Barbudans fled wholesale destruction. The other project is being led by actor and hotelier Robert De Niro, who plans to build a tony resort called Nobu Beach Inn on a different stretch of sand. Though the Nobu Beach Inn will not be located on the Codrington Lagoon, locals have decried both projects as part of a “land grab” — enabled by a pro-development government in Antigua that lured the resorts in and rammed through a post-hurricane change in land laws that turned the projects into significantly more attractive investments.

The impact of these new luxuries worries Barbudans.

On the Caribbean island of Barbuda, big changes are afoot: a new airport, golf course and luxury resorts are being built. But some worry about the environmental impact and question the benefits the developments will bring. New from @Newsy + Bellingcat

— Bellingcat (@bellingcat) August 31, 2022

We’ll keep you posted.

In the meantime, cross your fingers and hope that the Caribbean makes it through this season with no major storms.

Join me in the comments to share your memories of Irma, and for the weekly Caribbean News Roundup. 

As the Congressional Black Caucus celebrates its 50th year, we need to have their backs

During a time of open white supremacist hate-riotism, spurred on and enflamed by white elected Republican officials and their voters, it is easy to get discouraged and forget how far we’ve come when it comes to the racial dynamics of electoral politics of this nation. Historically speaking, even though Black people have been here in the “New” World since the late 1400s, and on the soil that would later become the United States as early as the 1500s, we haven’t been officeholders very long. 

The Congressional Black Caucus celebrated its 50th year in existence on June 30; we must renew our commitment to more African American representation, and not just in Congress; let’s also support increased representation in state houses and in local elections. I find myself feeling that sometimes we take Black officeholders for granted, even when I’ve seen such major changes in just my lifetime. I worry that the progress we’ve made could be easily stripped away if we don’t remain vigilant.

The Los Angeles Sentinel, a weekly Black-owned newspaper, reported on the pivotal anniversary last week.

Joyce Marie Beatty serves as the U.S. Representative for Ohio’s 3rd congressional district. Since 2013, she has been in that position and more recently, she became the Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus in 2021.

The congresswoman opened the floor with reflection of what the Black community has overcome due to the focus and dedication led by movements and diplomacy fighting for human equality and justice. The Chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus also emphasized the continual work that needs to be done.

Beatty mentioned that June 30 marks the 50th anniversary of the CBC, stating, “For 50 years, the Congressional Black Caucus has fought for and on behalf of Black people and the communities we serve. Just as freedom fighters took to the dark roads in the dead of the night to call for an end to racism, for the right to vote—we continue to stand committed to the work ahead of us.”

Rep. Beatty herself shared the story.

50 years & going strong. ✊🏿 #OurPowerOurMessage

— Joyce Beatty (@RepBeatty) July 13, 2021

Think about it: The first Congress of the United States met on March 4, 1789, and it took over 80 years for Hiram Rhodes Revels to become the first Black senator in 1870, and for Joseph Hayne Rainey to become the first Black congressman, during the brief period of Reconstruction. They were followed by 19 other Black men—all from the South.  

There were no Black men in Congress after 1901, until the election of Oscar Stanton De Priest from Illinois, as the first non-Southern Black House representative. He took office on March 4, 1929. Across the Capitol, there was an 80-year gap with zero Black senators, until Massachusetts’ Edward Brooke took office in 1967. It wasn’t until  January 3, 1969, that the first Black woman, Shirley Chisholm, was sworn into a House seat. Not long thereafter, in 1971, the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) was formed, with the motto, coined by Rep. William (Bill) Clay of Missouri, “Black people have no permanent friends, no permanent enemies ... just permanent interests.”

I have had an interest in some of the founders of the Congressional Black Caucus for some time, notably Ron Dellums, who was a founder of the Progressive Caucus, and whose election as a Democratic socialist was engineered with the help of the Black Panther Party; Congressman John Conyers did a jazz radio show on my radio station in Washington, D.C.;  and Shirley Chisholm, who is one of my shero inspirations. But it wasn’t until I started doing twice-weekly roundups of CBC member’ activities for Black Kos that I realized that far too often, not much mainstream media attention is paid to these Black folks we have managed to get elected.

Two years ago, I covered some CBC history, noting that the Caucus was expanding in both “size and clout.”

The history, courtesy of the CBC’s own page:

During the late 1960s, Rep. Charles Diggs (D-Mich.) created the Democracy Select Committee (DSC) in an effort to bring black members of Congress together. Diggs noticed that he and other African-American members of Congress often felt isolated because there were very few of them in Congress and wanted to create a forum where they could discuss common political challenges and interests.“The sooner we get organized for group action, the more effective we can become,” Diggs said. The DSC was an informal group that held irregular meetings and had no independent staff or budget but that changed a few years later. As a result of court-ordered redistricting, one of several victories of the Civil Rights Movement, the number of African-American members of Congress rose from nine to 13, the largest ever at the time, and members of the DSC decided at the beginning of the 92nd Congress (1971-1973) that a more formal group was needed. “The thrust of our elections was that many black people around America who had formerly been unrepresented, now felt that the nine black members of the House owed them the obligation of also affording them representation in the House,” Rep. Louis Stokes (D-Ohio) said. “In addition to representing our individual districts, we had to assume the onerous burden of acting as congressman-at-large for unrepresented people around America.”

The Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) was established in 1971 by 13 founding members.

In 1977, 15 of the Congressional Black Caucus members posed on the steps of the U.S. Capitol, from left to right: (front row) Barbara Jordan of Texas, Robert Nix, Sr., of Pennsylvania, Ralph Metcalfe of Illinois, Cardiss Collins of Illinois, Parren Mitchell of Maryland, Gus Hawkins of California, Shirley Chisholm of New York; (middle row) John Conyers, Jr., of Michigan, Charles Rangel of New York, Harold Ford, Sr., of Tennessee, Yvonne Brathwaite Burke of California, Walter Fauntroy of the District of Columbia; (back row) Ronald Dellums of California, Louis Stokes of Ohio, and Charles C. Diggs, Jr., of Michigan.

The page also explores the CBC’s early struggles.

Shortly after the CBC was established, its battle with President Nixon began. After President Nixon refused to meet with the group, the CBC decided to boycott the 1971 State of the Union Address, which made national headlines. “We now refuse to be part of your audience,” Rep. William Lacy Clay, Sr. (D-Mo.) wrote to President Nixon on behalf of the caucus, explaining that President Nixon’s refusal to meet with the caucus was evidence that the Administration wasn’t interested in helping the African American community.   The CBC’s decision to fight its battle with President Nixon publicly worked in the caucus’ favor and became a strategy the CBC would return to again and again. President Nixon eventually agreed to a March 1971 meeting with the caucus. During the meeting, the CBC presented President Nixon with 61 recommendations to eradicate racism, provide quality housing for African-American families, and promote the full engagement of African-Americans in government. “Our people are no longer asking for equality as a rhetorical promise,” Diggs said. “They are demanding from the national Administration, and from elected officials without regard to party affiliation, the only kind of equality that ultimately has any real meaning—equality of results.” Press coverage of the meeting and the events leading up to it introduced the CBC to the nation. A few years later, in 1973, the CBC would be among the first members of Congress to call for President Nixon’s impeachment.  

CBS This Morning posted this historical overview of the CBC for Black History Month 2021. 

What I’d like to stress today is that with voting rights under siege in multiple states, and the teaching of Black American history being excoriated from the right, we need to have the backs of Black folks, and their staff members we’ve put out front on the firing lines, who have to live and work with death threats.

We also need to be aware of what bills they are proposing, sponsoring, and cosponsoring—as well as the challenges they face in their home districts. Mainstream media attention gravitates toward clickbait and controversy. We need to counter that by stepping up our support.

How many CBC members do you follow on social media? How many have you donated to, who are not in your district or state? Here’s a link to the current members: How many do you know something about?

It’s beyond time to step up and have these members’ backs!